What Stace had to say on Friday, November 19th, 2010
Copyrights and stuff

I’m supposed to blog about copyright today, because I promised my wonderful friend Jane from How Publishing Really Works that I would. Of course, I ended up oversleeping (even for me; hey, I was up writing until five this morning) and getting sidetracked by a million different things, so it’s perhaps too late now for my post to do any good, but here it is anyway.

(This reminds me; I don’t suppose any of you out there reading this happen to be car salesmen in South Florida? Anything like that? BFF Cori needs to buy a new car, and I’d love to be able to send her to someone trustworthy, by which I mean one of my readers since of course nobody rocks harder than my readers. So if you’re in a position to help, contact me through the site, and maybe you’ll get special signed books or Seekrit Inside Info or something too.)

So. Copyright. This is one of those topics that’s so big and so important I almost don’t even know where to start. The simple fact is, copyright is what enables me to do what I do. Copyright is the reason I’m sitting here with my laptop–my laptop that copyright bought (used, because it’s a Mac and they’re fricking expensive new, but still). Copyright is the reason there are Downside stories; it’s the reason they exist, the reason those characters and that world exist.

I’ve touched on the subject of piracy before, notably in my post about trusting readers and not treating them like shit. And honestly, I don’t know that I can really say it any differently or any more clearly than I did then; piracy is a financial bite, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Yes, I was lucky, and I got offers for more Downside books. I know quite a few people whose series aren’t continuing because of low sales, but funnily enough, free copies of their books have been downloaded thousands of times. It’s all well and good for huge bestsellers to be blase about piracy; the rest of us need every sale to keep our careers going, and it frankly makes me angry to see them being cavalier like that instead of thinking back to the beginnings of their careers, or thinking how much of a difference their voice could make to those who are struggling.

But this isn’t about piracy, either. I know what all of the excuses are, the “They wouldn’t have bought it anyway,” as if that makes it okay for them to steal, or the “it actually increases sales,” or whatever. I don’t care. Yes, that’s right. I don’t actually care. To me it’s very simple: those stories and characters belong to me. You’re using them without paying (or going through a legal channel like a library or borrowing from a friend or whatever). Therefore you are stealing from me. Period.

See, at its base, that’s what copyright is. Copyright is a way to mark ownership of something intangible. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, no, but a written story can be. A film can be. A drawing can be. Copyright enables artists to live off of their skills.

I can’t draw to save my life, seriously. It’s not a talent I have. I’m lucky if I manage to make my stick figures look human. Most people I know aren’t great artists. I think people who are deserve some sort of recognition for that; they deserve our appreciation, our recognition. Visual artists beautify our world, quite simply. Every time you see a logo, a design, a pattern; every painting or drawing, every piece of public sculpture, you are seeing something made possible by copyright, and you are seeing something that adds something special to our society, something that reflects who and what we are.

Seriously, think for a minute about a world with no visual art. All buildings are just plain flat squares. Billboards are just black words on white backgrounds, all in Times New Roman or something. There are no textiles in this world; there’s very little color. No attempt has been made to make anything look attractive or inviting.

Yeah, I know, I’m stretching the point. But still. Think about how depressing that world would be, and as you do, think about how much artists add to our lives every single day. Not a day goes by that art doesn’t enrich our lives and our world.

And all those people ask in return is credit for the work they do, for the efforts they make. Just like you expect credit for the work you do; and really, with some exceptions, is your work really any less ephemeral? I know lots of people who would kill to have your job; does that mean I can decide you should be willing to do it for free, and withhold payment from you?

But I believe this is a slippery slope. I believe copyright is something fundamental, that it is in large part what makes our society work, what makes our world work. Yes, there are flaws, of course; I would never even try to imply our society and/or world is perfect, or even that it works particularly well. But copyright is part of the good stuff; it’s one of the positive forces, one of the better elements.

Why? For all of the reasons above. Copyright gives artists time to create and hone their skills. I’m sorry, but contrary to popular belief not everyone can draw, not everyone can write, not everyone can sculpt. I might have the brains to be a surgeon if I applied myself and studied hard, but my hands are simply not steady enough and my vision is terrible. That vision keeps me from being a commercial pilot as well. My height keeps me from being a model or a professional basketball player (yeah, I know, it’s not just my height that keeps me from being a model, but let’s focus on the point, shall we?).

I believe that if we continue to allow our copyright laws to be stepped on, if we continue to act as if they don’t matter, and we continue to buy into this bullshit copyright-is-evil line that’s just an excuse to benefit from other peoples’ work without lifting a finger, we will eventually find there’s nothing left worth stealing. There would be no impetus to create it, frankly.

Because a world without copyright, a world which doesn’t enforce copyright, is a world which doesn’t value art, and doesn’t value artists. Far from commoditizing art, copyright protects art from becoming just a commodity. Copyright recognizes that art is special, that it deserves its own set of protections and rules; that because of the way it enriches our society and changes lives it should be and is separate from other things, and gets special treatment. Copyright recognizes that society has a special responsibility to protect its art, and that society in general benefits from it in immeasurable ways.

A world which doesn’t value art, which doesn’t value artists, which believes copyright is ridiculous, is a world where people are seen as soulless, where individuality doesn’t matter. These people claiming to be rogue rebels, bravely thumbing their noses at copyright laws because art should be for everyone, are in fact trying to stamp on art, devalue it; they are in fact refusing to accept that anyone has anything special inside them, something that’s theirs and their alone, and that there’s any value in expressing that. They’re insisting that everyone is exactly the same, basically, and that there’s no difference between a Renoir and my stick figures. It’s not democratization and it’s not sticking it to The Man. It’s claiming that there’s nothing special or unique or worthwhile in the human soul, it’s claiming that people are worth nothing, and only tangible items have real value.

You’re not being a rebel because you devalue ideas and the expression of them. You’re not being a rebel because you deny artists the chance to make a living. You’re certainly not being a rebel because your response to their need to make a living is to tell them to get a real job, which is exactly what you’re doing when you say things like “You should be willing to do it for free.” Wow, maybe next you’ll tell them to turn down that music and get a decent haircut, huh? You crazy maverick.

Do you honestly think it’s rebellious to treat only things you can hold or taste as if they’re worth anything? Do you honestly think you’re somehow smashing the state by refusing to support artistic expression, by acting as though you’re entitled to the sweat of others’ brows and the fruits of their labor without giving anything in exchange? Do you really believe you’re somehow scoring one for the little guy by devaluing humanity to the point where not only are the souls, thoughts, ideas, and expressions of others are worthless, but where there isn’t even any legal protection in place for those souls, thoughts, ideas, and expressions? Yes, wow, how very subversive of you, treating art as worthless and acting as if other people exist solely to entertain you.

If you want to pirate, go ahead. If you want to steal, go ahead. If you want to devalue art, act as if the world owes you whatever you want, treat other people like commodities, you go ahead.

But don’t fucking pretend it has anything to do with freedom or rebellion, because it doesn’t. It has to do with your own selfishness and sense of entitlement, and in that you’re no different from any of those corporate heads you claim to be so disgusted by. You’re not hurting them. You’re hurting people just like you, and you don’t care as long as you get to fiddle while Rome burns. Good for you.

11 comments to “Copyrights and stuff”

  1. Inky_Ash
    · November 19th, 2010 at 6:43 pm · Link

    If she was looking for a dealer in New York I could have helped. *sigh* Hope someone else can.

  2. Inky_Ash
    · November 19th, 2010 at 6:49 pm · Link

    If she was looking for a dealer in New York I could have helped. *sigh* Hope someone else can though.

  3. Jane Smith
    · November 20th, 2010 at 4:20 am · Link

    Stace, how could you THINK you were too late to do any good? This post is fabulous, as are you.

    Just yesterday, I found that a handful of my blog posts had been copied onto someone else’s blog without attribution or permission. The transgressor was clueless rather than malicious and has now deleted the posts concerned, and admitted that he didn’t realise it wasn’t allowed; and a writer-friend of mine got into a Facebook argument with someone who couldn’t seem to see how wrong it was to make illegal downloads of books. He argued that there can’t be intellectual property where art is concerned… and kept arguing when people proved him wrong. Gah. Which all makes me think that the more we do to spread the word about how copyright theft kills creative output the better.

    • Vanessa Gebbie
      · November 20th, 2010 at 1:02 pm · Link

      Just to echo the point about creative output being killed when your work is taken maliciously – as mine was. It was months – almost a year, before I could write freely again. I worry, even now.

      And in my late fifties, there isn’t much time to piss about, you know?

  4. kitlina
    · November 20th, 2010 at 6:57 am · Link

    word girl

    what you said was so true it hurt. I totally agree with you on this one. you want something, you buy it. it’s not like a book or a song costs like a sports car, is it? you can gather up money and buy it although it can take you more time.

    but I’ve seen it’s hard to change other people’s views no matter how hard you try

  5. rissatoo
    · November 20th, 2010 at 8:58 am · Link

    Oh, applause!! Very well said, amen.

  6. Michele Lee
    · November 20th, 2010 at 1:31 pm · Link

    What they said. I totally agree. And next time someone says art isn’t a tangible commodity to sell someone should smack them over the head with Under the Dome.

  7. spinfrog
    · November 20th, 2010 at 2:05 pm · Link

    I think it’s a matter of honor to pay writers for their work. Unfortunately, this is mostly an honor-based system, with many legal ways available for people to enjoy the fruit of your labor without compensating you, such as borrowing from friends or libraries or buying used books. This, of course, is partly what causes the prices of new books (and ebooks!) to be so high. But then the high prices of new books force people to resort to obtaining their books in a manner (legal or not) that does not benefit the writer. Its like a vicious cycle! :(

    (and I won’t even get into the ridiculously, unreasonably high prices charged for ebooks, ugh! Lets just say, until prices (and e-formatting shenanigans) change, I’ll always buy the paper versions of your books)

  8. Betsy Dornbusch
    · November 20th, 2010 at 4:18 pm · Link

    I honestly think most people don’t think of the artist when they steal work. I wonder sometimes if they think we’re part of the Machine. It’s not so far-fetched. People think I’m making a ton of money because I’m selling books. They think if you’re selling, you’re making U2 kind of money or something. Art is like any other career, there’s a few at the top, a lot at the bottom, and a hefty mid-list.

    It’s sort of the same way people write shit reviews on Amazon. I don’t mean honestly critical, but plain mean, sometimes attacking the writer. I wonder how many would still write that if they realized how it affects the writers’ bottom line, house payments, and such. (I’m not saying people can’t be honest. But they shouldn’t be hurtful.)

  9. Fire and Napalm
    · November 23rd, 2010 at 12:56 pm · Link

    This is always something interesting to think about. I try not to worry about plagiarism and focus on the fact that even if someone steals my work they know next to nothing about it and couldn’t produce much else or talk intelligently about the characters. Worry would just make it worse for me, not for them.

    I despise the thought of getting books and things for free. I personally dislike E-books because I have an almost fetish for owning nice, clean preferably new books to the point that anything that costs more than a book strikes me as ridiculously expensive – surely pants are worth less than a novel!

    People are just selfish and seem unable to understand how something will hurt someone else in a lot of things, much less about something intangible.

    Here’s to hoping it gets better?

  10. BernardL
    · November 23rd, 2010 at 2:11 pm · Link

    The worst part is no one has found a reliable way to stop the pirates. I have an illustrator friend who actively hunts down any infringement and sues. It’s tedious to pursue, but as you point out in your post, a writer suffering crappy sales but seeing thousands of pirated downloads while struggling to keep a career afloat really has no choice but to go on the offensive.


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